Chapter 3


Daylight returned, waking the inhabitants of the hovel as this planet’s sun began to peek over the horizon. William was up first. He went outside and quickly returned, arms full of firewood. The cats returned as well, following him inside and mewling.

Stretching, I climbed gingerly off the grass bed. I was still sore, but lying around all day would get me nowhere. I pretty much summed up life inside the hovel. Time to check out the surroundings.



William’s family soon rose from their beds as well. Their father went to the big cabinet. He muttered something I didn’t understand, then turned to the eldest of his sons. “Michael, take the cart into town and buy provisions.” Michael’s eyes lit up. “And do not waste too much time talking to Anne Baker.” They took a simple meal of the hard, crusty thing they had with their dinner and the whitish liquid they fed me previously. William set down two bowls of the liquid. Having learned from the previous evening, I quickly moved to take a share before the cats could. It wasn’t filling, but it did taste good.

“Looks like you’re feeling better today Puss,” said William. I didn’t reply. Until I learned about this world, I decided it would be best to “play cat”, despite the fact that it was embarrassing and demeaning.

“Get a move on William, before Brother Bartholomew has your hide for being late,” warned his father. Nodding, William grabbed a book, the last piece of the crusty disk, and a chunk of some yellow thing he pulled from the cabinet where they kept the food, then dashed out the door. Their father and the brothers soon departed as well, leaving me with the cats.

The cats decided to take over. Since I was no longer in the grass bed, the gray male decided to claim it as his own. I didn’t care. Staying in bed wouldn’t make me feel any better. It was time to venture outside.

My eyes took a bit of time to adjust to the sunlight. When they did, I looked back at the building behind me. The words “quaint” and “derelict” both came to mind as a description of the exterior of the house. Since this was the only type of building I had been in on this world, I decided to reserve judgment until I had others to compare it to. The surrounding area, however, was very pleasant.

I appeared to be in some sort of rural setting. Huge trees surrounded the house and grass carpeted the ground. Having lived on fully populated worlds and in spaceships most of my life, nature was a bit of a luxury. If there were some of the more typical amenities of a quality hotel, I’m sure this place could make a small fortune as a resort. A small creature fluttered by my head. I noticed two slightly larger buildings flanked the living quarters.

Some sort of primitive wheeled transportation device stood outside of one building. Two large creatures were tethered to it. I suspected, from the way they stood placidly while attached to the transport, that they were about as intelligent as the cats. William’s brothers loaded huge, unwieldy sacks and round wooden containers into the back. Then Michael hopped onto some sort of seat and picked up a set of straps that were attached to the animals’ tethers. He made some sort of noise and the animals began to move, taking the transportation device with them.

The father and Henry went into a far building. A quick investigation of the one that the transport left revealed some sort of storage area and animal pen. The pen housed one animal that I could not readily identify – it was larger than my current form, but smaller than the ones that just departed. Quietly it stood and munched on some kind of grass. Dried grass covered the floor. Several shaped bundles of the dried grass were stacked around the room. A ladder led to an upper level; it seemed a bit rickety, so I decided to wait on investigating.

The other building bordered some sort of stream or river full of crystal clear water. I dipped my paw in and tried to scoop some up. It tasted like nothing I’d had before. Definitely not the recycled, purified, treated water that was the only thing available in most places I’ve lived. Then I noticed the huge wheel. It appeared to be attached by a huge metal rod to the building. Flat paddles in the water made the wheel turn slowly, but purposefully.

Naturally this got my curiosity burning. The door was not latched; it opened easily to my paw. Inside I found one of the oddest contraptions I had ever seen. The largest portion consisted of two enormous stone disks. They were set up as if some sort of table. After a moment I realized that the bottom disk was stationary, while the other was attached by a series of primitive wooden and rough metal gears and axels to what was most likely the same pole the wheel turned. A roughly cut set of steps led to a platform alongside a giant funnel. Full and empty sacks and round wooden containers lined the walls. A white powder seemed to cover everything.

Henry took no notice of me as he hefted a huge sack made of the same rough fabric I had seen in the house. I was almost alarmed as I watched him climb the steps to the platform – I wouldn’t have thought it would have held his weight, let alone his with the full sack. He emptied the sack into the funnel. The father monitored the disks as white powder began to emerge and used some sort of scoop to guide the powder through a small chute into another sack. Upon investigation of one of the sacks, I discovered that this was some sort of grain native to this world. Henry continued pouring grain into the funnel; the father continued collecting the results into sacks or wooden containers. Occasionally he called for Henry to stop, pulled a few levers, brushed the catching trough with a bundle of grasses, and then resumed the process. This strange contraption was an early grain processing plant.

Movement caught the corner of my eye. One of the cats, who had been lounging atop a wooden container, pounced. I heard a now familiar squeak and a crunch. The mice were attracted to the grain; the cats caught and ate the mice. It dawned on me that, so long as I decided to keep my disguise, I would be expected to do the same.

Ewwww….

***

After two weeks at the mill, I was ready to go crazy. I still don’t know how those humans managed to stay sane. It was the same thing every single day, except for one day they termed “Sunday” (which is the day that apparently marked the “turning” of a new week).

From sun up to sun down, the older humans worked in the mill while William left shortly after the morning meal. He returned a couple of hours after the midday meal and began a series of domestic chores. At sundown, the family gathered inside the hovel and ate their evening meal, after which they discussed news or William read aloud. Occasionally their routine varied with one of the older brothers taking what they called the “horse cart” and departing for most of the day. Sometimes men came with their own “horse cart” and unloaded sacks of grain to be processed in the mill.

The day these humans labeled “Sunday” was different. They dressed in what they termed their “best” clothes and all loaded into the “horse cart. Where they went, I have no clue. But they seemed to return midday in a subdued and pensive mood. The father, whose name I finally learned was Jacob, would go to a shaded place behind the mill. There rested a stone with symbols engraved on it. He would lay some flowers and he appeared to mourn a lost loved one.

After one week of tedium, I decided to start exploring. At least this gave me the chance to become acquainted with the flora and fauna within a 1 hour walk from the mill. One thing could be said for this area… there are a LOT of trees. If I were here on a vacation, this place would be a paradise. But even paradise can become boring.

Other than the forest and the “mill stream” (as the humans called the water source that powered their mill), the only major feature of interest was the dirt road that the men and their horse carts used. It led in one direction over a wooden bridge and through the forest. In the other direction, it seemed to wind through some sort of grassy, flat plains.

The cats’ routine rarely varied. Sleep, eat, chase mice, sleep, eat, chase mice, etc, etc, ad nauseum. I tried communicating with them. However, they were limited to a vocabulary of meows that I was having trouble grasping. One day, when the humans were out, I tried to practice using the local human language. The cats looked at me as if I was mad, then ran off.

It’s a good thing I’m not one of those beings that loves to talk for the sake of hearing my own voice, otherwise I’d have gone mad within a couple of days. I’m very wary of talking to the humans just yet. Right now I just talk to the donkey and the horses. They just stare at me and munch their grass. Who knows what would happen if these huge beasts went into a panic?

There is one small routine that I actually began to enjoy. Every few days William would stand alongside the millstream with a wooden pole, to which was attached a string with a hook and attempt to catch the creatures he called “fish”. I was a bit disgusted to realize they lived in the water that I had previously enjoyed drinking… and there were NO water purification plants to be found on this planet. However the fish were delicious to eat, especially when grilled. A couple of large fish fed the family, cats and all, for virtually no cost (other than the time spent to dig creatures William called “worms” and the time used to catch them).

The enjoyable part of all of this was the way that William would speak to me while he was fishing. He spoke to me like he would another human (something he didn’t do with the cats). I discovered that his mother died when he had just passed his twelfth birthday. When his mother was expecting him, a gypsy visited her. She told his mother that the child she carried was destined for a greater life than that of a miller. That was one of the reasons his education was being continued beyond the average level amongst the “common people” of this land. It was one of his mother’s last requests before she died.

“Still, Puss,” he said to me, “I do not know where it will get me. I will never be a knight; I do not come from noble blood. Perhaps I could be a squire… or a merchant. Brother Bartholomew said that perhaps I am destined to be a man of the cloth… but I believe that if a life in the church were to be my calling, I would already know. I know no other trade beyond the mill and I am too old to enter into a different apprenticeship. Brother Bartholomew says that I have good eyes and good penmanship, and with more practice in Latin, I could possible become a scribe.”

It was times like that when I would mentally curse my self-imposed silence. The teen needed advice and guidance, which he really wasn’t getting from his family. Jacob followed the traditions that had been in place for centuries. From what I could tell, Michael stood to inherit the mill. That didn’t seem to leave much for Henry or William. In more modern civilizations, the three brothers would each have a joint share in the family business, from which they could divide things up, sell off portions, etc. In plain language, the inheritance laws for this world stink.

Henry appeared a bit more “street smart” than the responsible Michael or the intelligent William. Whatever he was given, he would make a go of it… or lose it all. I heard his father yell at him one night when he came home late after delivering goods. His breath certainly stank from one too many fermented beverages. Jacob accused him of lingering too long at the tavern (whatever that was) and indulging with “loose women” (whatever that meant). I suspect that whatever this world’s currency was, Henry would gamble it all away if it were given to him.

None of this really should have concerned me. When I felt strong enough and knowledgeable enough about this world, I planned to move on. There was a whole world to explore and it made no sense to stay where I was. Maybe there were others like me out there. I wouldn’t know until I looked.

Maybe I would find Ogarius as well.

.

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